Basketball Hall of Famer K.C. Jones, a defense-minded point guard on eight NBA championship teams as a player with the Boston Celtics and a winner of two more titles as the team’s head coach, has died, the team confirmed. He was 88.
Jones, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989, played nine seasons in the NBA (all with the Celtics) from 1958-67 and won championships in eight of them — the third-most in NBA history behind only former teammates Bill Russell (11) and Sam Jones (10).
Jones returned to Boston as an assistant coach in 1977 — earning one more championship ring ) before leading Larry Bird and the Celtics to two more titles as head coach in 1983-84 and 1985-86.
“I just received a call letting me know my x-roommate/teammate & most of all friend the great KC Jones passed this morning,” Russell tweeted Friday. “Prayers to his family. We have been friends for almost 60yrs, this our last photo together. Friends for life. #2020USuck! #RIP”
Jones also was a teammate of Russell’s at the University of San Francisco, winning two NCAA titles. He is one of only seven players to win championships in college and the NBA and an Olympic gold medal (1956) — along with Russell, Jerry Lucas, Clyde Lovellette, Magic Johnson, Quinn Buckner and Michael Jordan.
“My Dad passed away today at 4:55 am. Thank you all for your love for Celtics and especially for Dad,” Jones’ daughter Bryna tweeted.
The 6-foot-1 guard averaged only 7.4 points per game for his career, overtaking the starting job from Bob Cousy in 1963. But his defensive tenacity and play-making skills made him an important part of the Celtics’ ’60s dynasty, and his uniform number 25 was retired at the conclusion of his playing career in 1967.
“I just didn’t see how a man who shot as poorly as K.C. could stay in the NBA,” the 92-year-old Cousy told ESPN. “’I really didn’t think his other skills would be enough to keep him around. But I was wrong. The man turned out to be amazing on defense and eventually learned to score enough so that rival teams couldn’t afford not to guard him.”
Jones coached three seasons with Washington in the 1970s, including losing to Golden State in the 1975 NBA Finals. He returned to the Celtics as an assistant coach under Bill Fitch in 1977 and was promoted to head coach in 1983, defeating the Lakers for the championship in his first season with a team featuring Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson.
That group reached the NBA Finals in four consecutive years, adding another ring in 1986 before moving into the front office in 1988. The Texas native also coached Seattle and Detroit, finishing with 522 career NBA wins.
The other of his dozen NBA championship rings came as an assistant coach with the Lakers in 1972.
“Where K.C. Jones went, winning was sure to follow,” the Celtics said in a statement. “In NBA history, only teammates Bill Russell and Sam Jones have more championship rings during their playing careers. … K.C.’s coaching career was similarly illustrious and one of the most remarkable head coaching runs the NBA has seen.
“K.C. also demonstrated that one could be both a fierce competitor and a gentleman in every sense of the word. He made his teammates better, and he got the most out of the players he coached. Never one to seek credit, his glory was found in the most fundamental of basketball ideals — being part of a winning team. The Celtics family mourns his loss, as we celebrate his remarkable career and life.”